Alternative Ways to Improve Your Driving Skills - Training - LawOfficer.com

Alternative Ways to Improve Your Driving Skills

Even the most effective EVOC instructor can only do so much on a 500'x400' parking lot

 


 

JP Molnar | From the October 2006 Issue Saturday, September 30, 2006

In law enforcement, many of us spend a great deal of time behind the wheel of our patrol vehicle, our office on wheels. Unlike the desk at home, however, we frequently must drive our offices at high speeds through all types of weather and traffic conditions they never taught us in our high school driver s education classes. Partly due to these job dimensions, and partly to address the issues brought up in Canton v. Harris,* law enforcement agencies regularly integrate some sort of EVOC program into their basic training regimen.

Unfortunately, due to location, budget, vehicle and instructor availability, department size and other perceived priorities, the effectiveness of EVOC training programs varies significantly from agency to agency. In some cases, like the California Highway Patrol, an immense training facility exists with multiple training settings, including high- and low-speed training, precision immobilization technique (PIT) training and much more. In others, agencies must improvise with free parking lots, construction cones and speeds that rarely exceed 40 mph. Agencies meet their training needs in both cases, but even the most effective EVOC instructor can only do so much on a 500'x400' parking lot. And, while academy programs are standardized in each state, many agencies offer little afterward.

Ultimately, whether or not your agency s EVOC program protects you legally in a crisis, you owe it to yourself, your family, your career and the public to make yourself the best driver possible. Because we know the limitations of public agencies EVOC training methods, we must look elsewhere to improve driving skills.

Fortunately, the vast legion of automotive enthusiasts around the world has ensured that numerous options exist to improve your driving skills and provide you with a lot of fun while you re learning. Many of the options listed below exist nationwide and can be done at a pretty low cost. For some, you can use your personal vehicle with little or no modification, or use the vehicles provided. For others, you will need to purchase specialized vehicles and equipment.

Regardless, the investment in your driving skills will provide benefits in your personal life, and will make you a much more capable and efficient law enforcement driver. Every option is a legitimate, controlled environment in which you can learn valuable skills, have fun and give yourself and your family some additional peace of mind.

Autocrossing

Cost: Entry fees usually vary from $20 $50; annual membership fees may apply.

Can I use my own vehicle? Yes.

What is it? Autocrossing, also known as Solo racing, is basically a competition form of the type of traffic-coned courses you drove in the academy. But unlike the academy, each driver is individually timed to the thousandth of a second, and drivers compete against one another in similarly classed vehicles. Vehicles complete the course one at a time (hence the Solo moniker), and the events are usually held on airport runways, parking lots, etc. There are two types of Solo events, Solo I and Solo II. The difference: Solo I events are usually held on high-speed venues that require additional safety equipment, while Solo II events are low-speed that require no modifications.

Why it's good: Solo II emphasizes driver skill and vehicle handling, which means precision, smoothness and balance are the keys to running fast. Because you can use your personal vehicle, you can learn how to drive your vehicle to its limit for safer street driving, and may be able to bring your patrol car to the event. The courses change from venue to venue, so there s a lot of variety, and there is usually an event near you. Competition can prove fierce, with winners often determined by hundredths and thousandths of a second.

What you ll need: A vehicle that meets a basic safety inspection, a helmet (sometimes provided), a few dollars to enter, and a good attitude.

What if I like it? There are literally thousands of Solo events nationwide each year. Because there are many categories and classes of Solo, you can either continue driving your street car, or find something more specialized. If you feel especially confident, you can attend the annual SCCA Solo II National Championships in the Midwest. There, you ll find more than a thousand drivers, all wanting to take home the championship in their classes.

Whom do I contact? The Sports Car Club of America (www.scca.com), or the National Auto Sport Association (www.nasaproracing.com). Numerous independent car clubs also offer Solo events to their members.

Kart Racing

What it costs: Entry fees typically vary from track to track; annual membership fees may apply. You will also need to buy, rent or borrow a kart and the required safety gear. You can buy a good kart for less than $2,000, with price increases dependent on class and equipment.

Can I use my own vehicle? No.

What is it? Interested in driving a vehicle that accelerates from 0 60 mph in about 3 seconds, corners with as much g-force as a Formula 1 or Indy car, fits in the back of a normal pickup truck and can run an entire race weekend on a few gallons of gas? If so, welcome to karting. What started more than 50 years ago as a low-cost hobby has gone on to become a world-class racing scene for an estimated 100,000-plus Americans annually, according to the World Karting Association.

What is a kart? Well, they are definitely not the contraptions you see in local home-improvement and auto-parts stores, or at the local county fair. Real karts (the go part disappeared a while back) have no suspension, measure about 72" long x 50" wide, and weigh approximately 150 lbs. minus the driver. Engines vary from 5 30 horsepower or more, depending upon the class. Some karts have a single gear; others feature shifting mechanisms.

Most karting takes place on paved tracks less than a mile in length. The karts for these tracks, called Sprint Karts, are extremely quick and handle at a much higher level than any street car. Classes exist based on age, type of kart, weight and competition level. There are also karting events on dirt and large racetracks, each using a kart specifically designed for that type of racing.

Why it's good: For the money, no other vehicle will give you the performance a kart will. You won t need to build an additional garage to house it, you can transport it in the bed of a pickup and track time and competition is plentiful. Plus, it s cheap, so you can race often, and if you crash, it s reasonable to fix. Most places in the country have a kart track within a moderate driving distance, and with some youth classes starting at age 5, it could be your next family sport.

What you'll need: A kart, a safety suit, a helmet, fuel, tires, a membership and a way to get it to the track.

What if I like it? Many Indycar, NASCAR and Formula One drivers got their start in karting. Like Solo, numerous opportunities exist nationwide. If you re good enough, a world championship could be on your horizon.

Whom do I contact? World Karting Association (www.worldkarting.com).

Amateur Sports Car Racing

What it costs: Entry fees usually vary from track to track; annual membership fees may apply. You will also need to buy, rent or borrow a race car and the required safety gear. You can typically find a good race car for less than $2,000, with the prices going up from there depending on class and equipment.

Can I use my own vehicle? It depends.

What is it? By the time the first two cars were ever built, someone had already figured out a way to race them against one another. At its basic form, amateur sports car racing places cars of similar performance against one another, wheel-to-wheel, on race tracks around the country. Numerous classes exist, from high-revving Hondas to rumbling V-8 Mustangs. Modifications generally revolve around safety gear and some basic suspension and engine allowances. Since most vehicles used in this type of racing are older, parts are usually low-cost and readily available.

Why it's good: This provides officers an excellent opportunity to learn about high-speed handling, braking and cornering techniques for a relatively low investment. Most classes use a production chassis and street-based DOT tire, so handling dynamics and cornering performance remain similar to high-speed maneuvers on the street. Few aerodynamic aids are allowed, so driving one of these cars at high speeds produces reactions similar to a patrol car in the same situation. And, many cars are on the track at one time, providing an excellent place to learn about high-speed passing maneuvers, car placement and the critical importance of being smooth with all of your inputs.

What you'll need: A vehicle that meets safety regulations, a safety suit, a helmet, fuel, tires, a membership and a way to get it to the track. In many cases, competitors drive their racecar to the track, tape up the headlights and taillights, and go racing.

What if I like it? Races are held regularly around the country at various race tracks, with several sanctioning bodies holding national championship events each year. While cost can run low, the old adage speed costs money how fast do you want to go? definitely applies.

Whom do I contact? The Sports Car Club of America (www.scca.com) or the National Auto Sports Club (www.nasaproracing.com). There are also many independent car clubs, and make-specific (BMW, Porsche, etc.) organizations that feature wheel-to-wheel racing events for their members.

Professional Driving School

What it costs: It varies from school to school, depending on the type of vehicle used, the venue and the number of training days. Classes can cost from a few hundred dollars to several thousand.

Can I use my own vehicle? No.

What is it? A structured training environment utilizing state-of-the-art equipment, a purpose-built training facility and seasoned professional driving instructors. Courses exist for almost every imaginable type of driving or vehicle; from Pontiacs to formula cars, stock cars to karts, paved racetracks to dirt roads, with a high instructor-to-student ratio in which the instructors are usually accomplished drivers in that specific type of vehicle.

Why it's good: When you need heart surgery, you don t buy a book on how to do it. You hire a professional and pay good money for their experience and proficiency. The same applies here. Attending a true performance or racing school will teach and refine all aspects of your driving abilities using their vehicle, their tires, their track and their gas. Plus, you ll receive extensive one-on-one training. The time you save by learning directly from the pros far outweighs the cost of the schooling. This is an excellent choice if you aren t interested in any motor sports options.

Note: Beware of so-called driving experiences, which are advertised side-by-side with bona fide professional schools. The difference is immense. The driving experiences can be nothing more than a glorified theme park ride where instruction is minimal and emphasis is on exposing students to a highly restricted taste of a particular vehicle on a particular track. Driving schools, in contrast, have structured curricula, begin with basics, and truly address the physical and physiological elements of proper high-performance driving. Carefully review the programs offered to see if you will actually learn to drive the vehicles or if you will simply be exposed to them. A perfect example is an experiential program using stock cars. The fact is, no matter how talented you are, a day or two behind the wheel will never teach you to drive a NASCAR-style stock car at the speeds and limits Dale Jr. and Jeff Gordon reach. It might be fun to run around an oval at 100 mph, but considering the pros run that same track at 180 mph, are you really learning that much about being a better driver? Pick a school using street-based vehicles that focuses on learning.

What you'll need: A checkbook or credit card, and a good attitude.

What if I like it? Many schools offer advanced programs; some offer school-supported racing programs.

Whom do I contact? There are dozens of schools, so your best bet is to contact www.racingschools.com, which offers information and direct links to each school.

Summary

Driving a patrol car properly in crisis situations under intense pressures requires you to use techniques and skills that are perishable by nature. Depending on where you work, your only EVOC training may have been years ago, or in a location dictated by budget or lack thereof. Because we drive every day, on and off duty, taking advantage of the options listed above will provide you with the chance to maintain your performance driving skills while having a lot of fun at the same time.

 

State Trooper John Pentelei-Molnar has been teaching EVOC since 1991 for various agencies. He has also been racing cars for 24-plus years, and has taught at numerous high-performance racing schools.

 

*In Canton v. Harris (489 US 378, 1989), The U.S. Supreme Court concentrated on a government entity s duty to properly train their employees in subject matters affecting job dimensions. Failure to do so resulted in a judgment of negligence on the part of the government entity, which was held liable for failure-to-train issues.




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JP MolnarJP Molnar, Law Officer's Cruiser Corner columnist, is a former state trooper and has been teaching EVOC since 1991 for numerous agencies.

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